# Computing a theory of everything | Stephen Wolfram

TLDRStephen Wolfram discusses the profound impact of computation, suggesting it's the defining concept of our era. He shares his journey from physics to developing Mathematica, and his exploration of the computational universe, leading to the creation of Wolfram Alpha—a knowledge engine that computes answers to complex questions. Wolfram posits that simple computational rules can generate complex phenomena, hinting at a potential 'theory of everything' within the computational universe, challenging traditional scientific paradigms.

### Takeaways

- 💡 Computation is a fundamental idea that has driven technological advancements and has deep implications beyond just computer technology.
- 🔍 Stephen Wolfram has spent 30 years working on projects that explore the idea of computation, starting with using computers as tools in physics.
- 🌐 Wolfram created Mathematica, a symbolic programming system, which has been continuously expanded and has had significant impacts in R&D and education.
- 🔬 The concept of exploring the 'computational universe' involves looking at the space of all possible programs and their behaviors, like cellular automata.
- 🌟 Rule 30 in cellular automata demonstrates complex, intricate patterns emerging from simple rules, challenging traditional scientific intuition.
- 🤔 Computational irreducibility suggests that some systems are fundamentally unpredictable and can only be understood by observing their evolution.
- 🌐 The principle of computational equivalence posits that even simple systems can perform complex computations, challenging the need for complex technology or evolution.
- 🚀 Wolfram Alpha was created as a knowledge engine to compute answers to questions, aiming to democratize access to knowledge and provide authoritative sources.
- 📈 Wolfram Alpha's success relies on understanding natural language queries and computing answers, which has been improving with user interaction and computational advancements.
- 🌌 The computational universe offers a vast array of programs that can be harnessed for various purposes, from randomness generation to modeling natural processes.
- 🔮 Wolfram speculates that the universe itself might be describable by a simple rule within the computational universe, leading to a quest to find the 'theory of the universe'.

### Q & A

### What is the central idea discussed by Stephen Wolfram in his talk?

-The central idea discussed by Stephen Wolfram is the concept of computation as a fundamental theory that underlies not just computer technology, but potentially all of physics and the universe itself.

### What are the three large projects Stephen Wolfram has worked on over the past 30 years?

-Stephen Wolfram has worked on three large projects: developing symbolic programming leading to the creation of Mathematica, exploring the computational universe, and creating a new kind of science based on simple programs and their behaviors.

### What is the significance of cellular automata in Wolfram's research?

-Cellular automata are significant in Wolfram's research as they represent simple programs that can exhibit a wide range of complex behaviors, challenging traditional scientific paradigms and leading to the discovery of new scientific principles.

### What is the concept of computational irreducibility mentioned by Wolfram?

-Computational irreducibility refers to the idea that some computational processes are inherently complex and cannot be simplified or predicted without actually running the computation to observe its behavior.

### What is the principle of computational equivalence as introduced by Stephen Wolfram?

-The principle of computational equivalence suggests that even very simple computational systems can perform computations as complex as any other system, implying that complexity in nature may arise from simple underlying rules.

### What is Wolfram Alpha, and what is its purpose?

-Wolfram Alpha is a computational knowledge engine designed to compute answers to questions using built-in knowledge and algorithms, aiming to democratize access to information and provide authoritative answers to specific questions.

### How does Wolfram Alpha differ from traditional search engines?

-Unlike traditional search engines that retrieve information based on keywords, Wolfram Alpha computes answers to questions using its built-in knowledge base, providing fresh and specific answers rather than links to existing content.

### What is the concept of knowledge-based computing that Wolfram discusses?

-Knowledge-based computing is a new paradigm where computation starts from a vast amount of built-in knowledge, allowing for more efficient and intelligent processing of information and tasks.

### How does Wolfram envision the future integration of computation into the fabric of science and technology?

-Wolfram envisions computation as the defining idea of the future, with its potential to reshape the foundations of science, redefine the limits of technology, and even influence our understanding of the human condition.

### What is the ultimate goal Stephen Wolfram has for the project of finding the rule for our universe?

-The ultimate goal is to discover a simple rule or program that governs our universe, allowing us to understand its behavior and place within the space of all possible universes, and to be able to compute answers about the universe using tools like Wolfram Alpha.

### Outlines

### 🤖 The Power and Evolution of Computation

Stephen Wolfram introduces the concept of computation as the defining idea of the past century, highlighting its foundational role in the development of computer technology. He reflects on his 30-year journey through three major projects, starting as a physicist and leading to the creation of Mathematica. Wolfram discusses the broader implications of computation beyond specific applications, delving into the computational universe and the exploration of simple programs' potential for complexity, exemplified by cellular automata and 'Rule 30'. This concept challenges traditional scientific intuition and has led to the development of a new kind of science, distinct from the mathematics-based science of the past 300 years.

### 🌐 Democratizing Knowledge with Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram describes his ambitious project to make systematic knowledge computable, leading to the creation of Wolfram Alpha—a knowledge engine designed to compute answers to questions. He demonstrates its capabilities with various queries, from simple calculations to complex real-world data analysis. The goal of Wolfram Alpha is to provide authoritative, computed answers to specific questions, not through search, but through built-in knowledge. The project's challenges include curating vast sources of data and implementing centuries of scientific methods and models. Wolfram Alpha's linguistic capabilities have evolved through the study of the computational universe and actual user interactions, achieving an 80% success rate in handling web queries.

### 🔧 Knowledge-Based Computing and the Future of Technology

Stephen Wolfram discusses the emergence of knowledge-based computing, where computation starts with built-in knowledge rather than raw data, revolutionizing the delivery of computational services. He contrasts Mathematica's formal language and precise capabilities with Wolfram Alpha's integration of real-world data and human language. The combination of these technologies allows for precise programming that leverages real-world data and the potential for democratizing programming by enabling users to express their needs in plain language. Wolfram Alpha's role in this is to interpret these needs and provide precise code examples, paving the way for mass customized creativity and possibly even on-the-fly invention and discovery.

### 🌌 The Computational Universe and the Search for the Theory of Everything

In the final part of his talk, Wolfram explores the possibility of finding our physical universe within the computational universe, suggesting that simple rules could underlie the complexity of our universe. He discusses the challenge of computational irreducibility and the difficulty in determining the behavior of candidate universes. Wolfram shares his excitement about discovering simple rules that reproduce elements of physics, including special and general relativity, and hints at quantum mechanics. He commits to pursuing the project of finding the rule for our universe within a decade, with the hope of being able to input 'the theory of the universe' into Wolfram Alpha and receiving an answer. The talk concludes with a reflection on the transformative power of computation and its potential to shape the future of science, technology, and human understanding.

### Mindmap

### Keywords

### 💡Computation

### 💡Mathematica

### 💡Computational Universe

### 💡Cellular Automata

### 💡Computational Irreducibility

### 💡Principle of Computational Equivalence

### 💡Wolfram Alpha

### 💡Knowledge-Based Computing

### 💡Rule 30

### 💡Theory of Everything

### Highlights

Stephen Wolfram introduces the idea of computation as possibly the single biggest idea of the past century.

Computation has brought us today's computer technology, but its deeper implications are only beginning to be understood.

Wolfram has spent 30 years working on projects that take the idea of computation seriously, including the creation of Mathematica.

Mathematica was initially built for Wolfram's personal use to explore the computational universe.

Wolfram explains the concept of cellular automata and how simple rules can produce complex behaviors.

Rule 30 is highlighted as an example of a simple rule creating intricate, seemingly random patterns.

Wolfram introduces the principle of computational equivalence, which posits that simple systems can perform sophisticated computations.

The principle has deep implications for science, predictability, and the understanding of processes in biology and economics.

Wolfram Alpha, a knowledge engine that computes answers to questions using built-in knowledge, is introduced.

Wolfram Alpha's ability to compute real-time data, such as the location of the International Space Station, is demonstrated.

The project involves curating vast amounts of data and implementing methods from various scientific fields.

Wolfram Alpha aims to democratize knowledge by providing computed answers rather than just searching pre-existing information.

Wolfram discusses the integration of Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha to create a new kind of knowledge-based computing.

The concept of mass customized creativity through the computational universe is introduced, with examples from music composition.

Wolfram speculates on finding a simple rule in the computational universe that could explain our physical universe.

The search for candidate universes in the computational universe has led to models that reproduce aspects of general relativity and quantum mechanics.

Wolfram is committed to discovering if a simple rule could represent our universe within this decade.

The power of computation is emphasized as a defining idea for the future, impacting science, technology, and the human condition.